For at least the fifth consecutive General Assembly, the report of the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) this year will undoubtedly prove once again to be a source of great controversy.
At the heart of the controversy has been the relationship of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) with the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), a denomination of approximately the same size with roots in the Dutch Reformed tradition.
In 1992, the Assembly instructed the IRC to "prepare documentation with regard to the Christian Reformed Church for presentation to the 21st General Assembly, such documentation to include such matters as the view of Scripture, the toleration of beliefs in evolution and homosexuality, and the treatment of brethren who have stood against these modernist trends." The motion was made from the floor by a member of the IRC Committee of Commissioners, and was seconded by TE Henry Lewis Smith, then Chairman of the Permanent Committee.
1993--IRC Refuses to Obey Mandate; Assembly Rebukes CRC
In 1993, the IRC reported that it had declined to do so, using these words: "It is the strong feeling that it would be inappropriate and even offensive to the CRC, for the PCA to initiate an investigation into the internal affairs of another denomination, especially when that denomination is in the process of seeking to resolve their problems and debates. We wish them well." The 1993 Assembly refused to accept the IRC's explanation, and ordered that the Committee comply with the directive.
GA commended the CRC for not opening ruling and teaching church office to women. The court also answered in the affirmative an overture from Louisiana Presbytery which called upon the CRC to repent "over its departure from the Scriptures in its doctrine and practice." That overture mentioned such things as the de facto practice in the CRC of the ordination of women to the eldership, the refusal of the CRC to discipline an openly homosexual minister, the refusal to "exercise discipline on faculty members at Calvin College who teach evolutionary theories of origins", and the fact that the CRC has "deposed and harrassed faithful ministers of the gospel who have spoken out on these issues." The successful substitute motion carried by 88 votes, 439-351.
Two days later (Thursday), Chairman Perrin took to the floor to object to news reports that had circulated at the CRC Synod regarding the Assembly's action, stating that inaccurate and misleading information was contained in them. One commissioner, who had a copy of the news report in question, took to a microphone, waving the copy, and demanding to know what in it was inaccurate or misleading. Mr. Perrin did not respond. The Moderator "instruct[ed] the Stated Clerk to transmit to the CRC Synod a copy of the actions taken by this Assembly concerning the CRC, without editorial comment, as soon as possible."
Later that day, the action by the Assembly in adopting the Louisiana overture was protested by 281 commissioners. Of the then-current members of the IRC, six of the seven present signed the protest: TE Paul Gilchrist, TE Rick Perrin, TE Tim Fortner, TE Henry Lewis Smith, RE Carl Wilhelm and RE Meade Guy.
1994--Committee Survives, But Its Report on CRC Does Not
The IRC's report to the 1994 General Assembly regarding the Christian Reformed Church proved to be quite controversial. As reported by Reformed Believers Press Service, the IRC Committee of Commissioners subjected the report to scathing attack. An extensive rebuttal, adopted by the Committee of Commissioners by a near unanimous vote (24-0-1), picked the Permanent Committee's report apart.
Furthermore, responding to three presbytery overtures dealing with the conduct of the IRC, the Committee of Commissioners, by a substantial majority, recommended the removal of all the members of the Permanent Committee.
TE Henry Lewis Smith moved from the floor that both the report from the Permanent Committee dealing with the CRC and the rebuttal from the Committee of Commissioners not be printed in the minutes. This meant that the Assembly took the unprecedented action of removing from the record a report from one of its permanent committees. Through parliamentary maneuvering, this vote was interpreted to mean that the motion concerning the removal of the IRC members was not before the Assembly.
Smith's motion also provided that the Assembly would "plead" with the CRC not to ordain women to ruling and teaching office--an issue with which the sister denomination was then struggling and which had caused much concern in the PCA.
1995--IRC's Report Under Fire; Committee Reverses Itself
In 1995, the Permanent Committee's report to the Assembly also generated much controversy. The Assembly refused to accept the Committee's explanation of why it had invited the Evangelical Presbyterian Church to re-apply for membership in NAPARC. The Committee's report had used harsh language regarding the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) observers at NAPARC. The Assembly deleted two points from the report, judging that the language used by the Committee was not justified. The Committee also had harsh words with regard to NAPARC: "The spirit of camaraderie that marked the earlier years has been strained by power plays and strident language, particularly on the part of the OPC, and this has created tensions within NAPARC that we deplore."
(This perception of reality by the PCA delegation to NAPARC was not shared by others. In 1993, Myung Doh Kim, perennial Korean American Presbyterian Church delegate to NAPARC,wrote an article in Korean, severely critical of the conduct of the PCA delegation at that year's NAPARC. As reported in this publication in Spring 1995, we contacted all seven of the delegates to the 1994 NAPARC meeting from the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church; at least six had very negative things to say regarding the performance of TE Rick Perrin and TE Paul Gilchrist.--Ed.)
Because of actions taken by the CRC, the IRC found that it had to reverse itself on two significant matters. First, because the CRC removed its objections, the PCA Committee now went along with approval of the RCUS joining NAPARC. Second, because of the action of the 1995 CRC Synod, opening ruling and teaching office to women, the Permanent Committee hammered out language in conjunction with the Committee of Commissioners that called the CRC to repent of this action. Helping to spark this activity was the extraordinary speech by the CRC's fraternal delegate, Rev. John Sittema, who asked the PCA Assembly to rebuke his own denomination for the action which the Synod had just taken. Prior to the Synodical action, the PCA's Permanent Committee had not recommended any action regarding the CRC, and had instead reported positively that the 1994 Synod had not ratified opening those church offices to females.
Accordingly, Permanent Committee Chairman K. Eric Perrin took to the microphone, saying that "the barn door is open, the cows are out, and there is no way the Christian Reformed Church will ever be able to get them in."
The Assembly, unanimously, adopted the rebuke of the CRC, as well as the following motion: "That the General Assembly instruct the IRC to use all due process afforded to them to remove the CRC from membership in NAPARC, if the CRC does not repent of and rescind the action of the 1995 Synod at the 1996 Synod." Many on the Committee of Commissioners wanted the PCA to move immediately to terminate CRC membership in NAPARC. However, in a spirit of being willing to give the CRC one more year to repent, the Committee and the General Assembly showed willingness to wait until the 1996 NAPARC meeting.
1996--NAE Dominates Discussion
A motion from the floor of the Assembly instructed the IRC to investigate the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), of which the PCA is a member, because of assertions of the increasing influence of feminism. Specifically, "the Assembly directed the IRC to report back to the Twenty-Fifth General Assembly any changes that may have occurred to the NAE Statement of Faith or on any movement toward granting women the privilege of the pulpit." This motion did not pass without a fight, as Permanent Committee Chairman Rick Perrin argued strongly against it. In the end, however, it carried by about a two to one margin.
1997--IRC Report Attacks Presbyteries
This year, at least four presbyteries have overtured the General Assembly, asking for a full investigation of the IRC conduct at the 1996 NAPARC meeting. At the heart of the concerns are the failure of the IRC to present a motion to NAPARC to terminate CRC membership in that organization, and the favorable vote by the PCA for membership in that body by the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), a denomination which allows female ordination to all church offices, including minister and elder.
In response, the IRC has lambasted the presbyteries who have questioned its actions: "The IRC frankly is offended by these overtures to the 25th GA. Not only do they contain factual errors but also what could be construed as deliberate distortions of the truth. Misunderstandings can be usually cleared up by the simple expedient of conversations. To our knowledge no such conversations have taken place, no questions have been asked to members of the IRC. The IRC has been charged with serious wrongs by the presbyteries who have sent these overtures. We maintain that Christian charity, the command of love to 'believe all things' (I Corinthians 13:7), a concern for the effects of false accusations, for 'the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity . . . and it is set on fire by hell' (James 3:6), a recognition that the works of the flesh include 'contentions, . . . dissensions, factions' (Galatians 5:20), and a reminder of the admoniton to 'avoid foolish disputes, . . . contentions, . . . for they are unprofitable and useless' (Titus 3:9), ought to have tempered our brothers' actions."